Tech giants are training artificial intelligence (AI) computers to be game masters as China strives for world AI leadership within the next ten years, according to leaders speaking at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai on Thursday.

Broadening AI research to Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), where a machine is trained to perform any intellectual task that a human is capable of, is being accelerated in China, and the modeling and simulation in virtual reality is a crucial step for the great leap, Tencent CEO Pony Ma said at the conference.

Earlier this month, Tencent Wukong AI, an autonomous system devised by the company, faced off with a professional human team playing the company’s hugely popular game, Honour of Kings, in an international competition in Malaysia. The Chinese gaming giant developed its own computer for the complex board game Go, Fine Art—like Alphabet’s DeepMind research project AlphaGo—in early 2016, which later beat China’s top professional player, Ke Jie, in January last year.

Microsoft also unveiled its latest achievement in virtual gaming expertise at the conference. Harry Shum, the company’s executive vice president, said the company had made “the world’s best AI system in the field of mahjong,” which earned top ranking, the 10th dan, on international professional mahjong platform Tianfeng in June, a level that fewer than 20 humans have reached.

The US tech giant’s Mahjong AI Suphx, developed by Microsoft Asia Research Institute, surpassed the average score from 10th dan-ranked human players after playing more than 5,000 games on the platform beginning in March.

Unlike games like chess and Go, mahjong’s randomness and the degree of speculation required to play makes it harder to predict, reason, and made decisions with a sense of perspective, said Shum. In the company’s view, mahjong is the next challenge in developing artificial intelligence that can learn from unknown factors.

AI progress over the past few years has far exceeded expectations, including challenges such as privacy concerns and business fraud, Shum said. He called for more extensive collaboration on early moves toward AI regulation.

Ma agreed. “There is no nation in the world with all of the resources and capabilities required for the next round of global economic and technological innovations worldwide, and industry separation and technological divide will only interfere the long-term benefits of human society,” said Ma (our translation).

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: or Twitter: @yushan_shen

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